Workers Memorial Day: A Reminder of Unfinished Work

by Karl Stark  |  April 27, 2012

Workers Memorial DayMore than four decades ago, Congress passed the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), promising workers the right to a safe job, free from hazards such as exposure to toxic chemicals, mechanical dangers or unsanitary conditions. And while AFSCME and our allies have fought hard to make sure that promise is kept to American workers, the truth as we honor Workers Memorial Day Saturday is that millions of public employees across the country work in jobs that don’t provide such protections.

In all, 25 states do not have an approved OSHA state plan to provide coverage for public employees: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Public employees provide the vital services that keep our country and our communities running, performing difficult work under stressful conditions. Too often, they pay too high a price for their service. Public employees suffer approximately 66 percent more injuries than their counterparts in the private sector, a figure that would certainly be lower if public employees in every state were covered by OSHA protections.

On April 16, AFSCME Local 759 member Ken Stiver died after succumbing to injuries he sustained in a March 1 explosion at the Struthers Wastewater Treatment Plant, having been in the burn unit at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC) Mercy hospital since the incident. Ohio is one of the 25 states not offering OSHA protections to public employees.

In 2010, the fatality rate for American workers rose for the first time in five years, to 3.6 deaths per 100,000 workers. Clearly, not enough is done to protect workers’ health and safety on the job.

President Obama has strengthened workplace protections with tougher enforcement on serious violations and has proposed new safeguards for workplace hazards. But some in Congress are trying to move in the other direction by attacking these stronger measures and using budget gimmicks to block an injury and illness prevention program, falsely claiming they kill jobs. The truth is the absence of adequate protections kills workers.

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